8 June, 2002
What a day!! I didn't sleep all that great in the land of the sun, but I didn't mind waking up, looking out at 2:00 am and wondering if it was time to get up as there was just as much light as I am used to at 6:00 am in Nebraska! I did finally crawl out of my sleeping bag around 7:00 am to sunlight and the sounds of many unknown birds, cleaned up in MY little pond, headed to the group tent to get some coffee going and get the day started.
We began our exploration of the North and Northeast regions of camp around 9:00 am. Again, I am not sure what to tell write about, specifically. I've decided that these next few days will be days of getting familiar with the area, so I have decided I will try to
create a picture for you of what I am seeing and learning.
So, during the first day on the thawing tundra, we sloshed through marshes, walked on dry tussocks, waded through shallow ponds, and
just really got an idea of what the arctic tundra land is all about. Physically, it is demanding. As you walk through the marshes and ponds, the "muck" at the bottom sucks your feet in. To avoid getting wet, we spent the day walking in hip waders, which aren't quite as comfortable as summer sandals (but they are dry). As you walk across the dry land, the challenge is not to trip. The tussocks are not
very sturdy, so as I stepped on top, they would roll a little. If I got tired of wobbling, I would walk on the lower ground, then the challenge is constantly stepping up and over the mounds. Needless to say, as we returned to camp around 5:00 PM after walking around 8 miles, my legs were tired!
Although I was physically exhausted, it was nothing compared to the mental exhaustion I felt. What a day of learning! I now feel confident in identifying at least 8 new birds: Pacific loon, Lapland Longspur, King Eider, Tundra Swan, Black Bellied Plover, Arctic Tern, Willow Ptarmigan, and the Red Breasted Phalarope. Not only that, but by sound alone, I can confidently identify the White Fronted Goose, the Willow Ptarmigan (which laughs at you until you figure out who he is), the Lapland Longspur (who sings quite a pretty song) and the pectoral Sandpiper (who sounds somewhat like an owl with a deep throated "hoot"). There are also a few other birds I think I could identify correctly, but will need a little more practice. I just can't believe how rich this area is with birds! As we walked those 8 miles, stumbling or splashing most of the way, there was hardly a moment we did not have our binoculars up to our eyes to identify another bird or just to observe their beauty more closely. It is obvious that some birds have preference for habitat, though, as we wouldn't find all of these birds in the exact same areas. It will be interesting as the summer progresses to truly develop an idea of each bird's preferences.
Besides trying to learn the myriad of birds present, we practiced making some field measurements on two white fronted goose eggs we found in a nest the adults flushed from. We also discussed how to make measurements with as little impact on the developing chicks and how to cover the nests up a little when finished so predators
couldn't spot them easily before the parents returned. We found a few other nests as well (some probably last year's) and discussed
what observations we should record from nests that do not have new eggs. All of this was really interesting to me as I thought about
the simple answers we were looking for: what types of birds are present in this area, how many eggs do they typically lay, what type of hatching success do they have, and why do some nests not succeed? Simple questions that are still unanswered, some unanswered due to
the area in which these birds reside and some unanswered just simply because the questions haven't been asked before. That is what is exciting, how simple a question can be, but how important the answers could potentially be to the scientific community and public in general.
Anyway, besides the birds, we also saw an Arctic Fox, many caribou (only one I saw with a calf), and a Snowy Owl (yes, it is a bird I realize, but a rare one to see, even up here!!). We also identified four different tundra flowers already blooming and just thoroughly enjoyed everything the land had to offer. Tomorrow we will split
into two different groups to cover the rest of the area. I believe I will be heading South and Southeast of camp, up along a ridge and around/through some more wetlands. According to last year's survey
of the area, there will be a few more Tundra Swans present, so I am hoping to get more familiar with my parcticular bird of study.
I am taking many pictures, but am having a few technical problems, so please continue following as I explore and I will continue trying to give you a real picture of all I am seeing, learning, doing and enjoying.
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